MSOE freshman are working to increase access to food and housing opportunities for the homeless in Milwaukee.

University Scholars at the future home of MacCanon Brown Homeless Santuary
The aquaponics team checking out the future location of the MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary.

Members of MSOE’s University Scholars Honors Program have joined an effort lead by Sr. MacCanon Brown, an advocate for disadvantaged populations, to develop a daytime homeless sanctuary and resource center for the Milwaukee community. The ultimate goal is that the sanctuary would produce food for its meal program mostly in-house. That’s where the students come in.

Two teams are involved in the project, which is led by Nick Brnot, electrical engineering major. An aquaponics team is designing an indoor, food producing system and an outdoor space team is designing a gathering space outside and rooftop hydroponics garden.

“Our mission is to provide a sustainable in-house food production system to serve the sanctuary’s meal program,” said Brnot. “Fish and plants grow symbiotically in a common recirculating water system, which results in a sustainable, safe and healthy food options—perfect for Sr. MacCanon’s needs.”

Members of the aquaponics team include Grace Fleming, Noah Kennedy, Ryan Phillipsen, Kyle Radomski, James (Connor) Splingaire, Sandro Storniolo, Mark Niewierowski and Josh Wankowski.

Growbeds are the core of the aquaponics system, creating a space for plants to grow for food production and water filtration.

So far, the teams have completed designs for the growbed, solid waste swirl filter, and fish growing tank. A rough prototype budget has been compiled and submitted to potential funders.

“After completing the major system component designs, our focus is shifting to the design approval, testing, and prototyping phase,” Brnot said. “We are currently in search of a location and funding to construct an initial system prototype. These resources will allow us to further progress towards our goal of implementing this food production solution.”

Wankowski, who serves as the design and research consultant for the project, said there is one primary obstacle: the location.

“Because we are designing this aquaponics system to be built on the third floor of an old, concrete warehouse, we had to design an agricultural system to be fully functional without direct sunlight,” Wankowski said.

The honors students have been navigating project complexities like this with guidance from MSOE professors and MacCanon’s team.

“With the designs the honors team created,” Wankowski said, “the Sr. MacCanon Brown Homeless Sanctuary will become a unique, community focused building that will serve as a helping hand to the community as a place to eat, meet and learn.”

 

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